NEW POLL: who do you think would be the most effective next leader of the Labour party?

by Stephen Tall on September 22, 2008

It seems inevitable the Labour leadership will continue to dominate the week’s headlines, regardless of the show of unity that is mounted for the cameras in Manchester over the next few days. The question of ‘Will Gordon survive?’ seems increasingly redundant: quite simply, Labour cannot continue like this, and even Mr Brown’s biggest fans seem unable to imagine the circumstances which will allow him to recover the popularity he lost a year ago. Events have developed a momentum of their own, and it’s a question of when, not if, he will be toppled as Labour leader.

Which begs the question: who would be best placed to replace Gordon Brown as Labour leader and Prime Minister?

Now, I’m aware that asking this on a Liberal Democrat website invites folk to calculate who would most benefit the Lib Dems as a party, rather than who would be good for Labour to elect. For example, we might think the social democrat-inclined David Miliband would make a wonderful Labour leader, but potentially woo Lib Dem voters, and so not vote for him regardless.

But I’m inviting you, fellow Lib Dems, to see past such partisan calculations, and use this poll genuinely to vote for the potential candidate you think would prove the most effective leader of the Labour party.

(I have, however, set up a poll in the private members’ forum to allow folk to choose who they think will be the best/worst leader from a Lib Dem perspective).

There will, I’m sure, be arguments about who should be on this list who I’ve missed out, or is on this list and doesn’t merit inclusion. If so, feel free to use the comments field to speak up. But here’s my list of the top 10 contenders for the top job:

David Miliband – could hurt the Lib Dems if he put forward a seriously reforming package, including constitutional reform; but it’s hard to imagine his unfortunately aloof manner working well with voters;
Harriet Harman – a female leader could well win support back for Labour, both from wavering Tories and Lib Dems; so much would depend on how she actually performed in the job;
John Reid – could hurt the Tories hard, out-flanking them on the right; hard to imagine his leadership hurting the Lib Dems;
Jon Cruddas – will be attractive to many Labour activists, but will likely be stereotyped (to an extent unfairly) as Labour shifting to the left; hard to imagine wither Tories or Lib Dems suffering, but might solidify the Labour vote;
Jack Straw – comes across very reasonably, but also as a grey man; hard to see how he will help Labour to move on, and outflank the Tories or Lib Dems;
John Denham – see Jack Straw;
Jacqui Smith – see Harriet Harman;
Alan Johnson – appears all but to have ruled himself out, hitching his colours to David Miliband’s mast; but is he missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become PM?
James Purnell – it’s surely too early for Purnell to ‘do a Hague’?
Ed Balls – his leadership victory would be a Tory and Lib Dem dream come true.

Anyway, over to you…

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I’m going to follow tradition here, and question the way in which this poll has been framed. There are two distinct types of next leader of the Labour party. The first is a caretaker leader, the second is a medium to long term leader. (Think Howard and Cameron for the Conservatives.) I would therefore supply two answers to the poll:

Long term leader – David Miliband
Caretaker leader – Could be Straw, Johnson, or my favourite Baroness Ashton

So how should I vote? I think caretaker leader is going to be the more likely scenario, so I’d have to opt for Baroness Ashton. But she’s not even on the list. What should I do?

by Laurence Boyce on September 22, 2008 at 6:48 pm. Reply #

I think Laurence is right (not about Baroness Ashton): it doesn’t really matter who the next leader of the Labour Party might be. Gordon Brown is in the same situation as John Major – vilified (largely) unjustly but consigned to lead his party into electoral oblivion for ten years or so. Remember that Tony Blair wasn’t an MP when Labour lost in 1979, nor was David Cameron when the Tories lost in 1997, so the chances are that the next Labour Prime Minister (if there is going to be one) isn’t even in Parliament at the moment.

by tony hill on September 22, 2008 at 7:10 pm. Reply #

From an anti-Labour position I think it is hilarious and disturbing at the same time that the party of government are having such ructions.

I’m surprised that anyone believes they _can’t_ go on like this – I think they can and they will.

It won’t do them much good though, even if continuing financial tumoil strengthens Brown’s hand and quietens the mutineers.

I don’t mind who they have as leader, because it won’t change my vote.

by Oranjepan on September 22, 2008 at 8:36 pm. Reply #

Harman needs to do a Sarah Palin if she is to succeed. Body armour is too passive; she must pose with a carbine. 😉

by Frank H Little on September 22, 2008 at 10:37 pm. Reply #

Milliband I guess, his speech to conference yesterday was effective…some interesting body language but Purnell would have the advantage of being a fresh face….doesnt matter because I dont think brown is going anywhere….

by Darrell on September 23, 2008 at 11:10 am. Reply #

They would be better off with someone from the soft left. S/he could reinvigorate the grass roots & bring out those apathetics, who would disproportionately vote Labour if they saw a point.

It should be relatively easy to move against Brown from a relatively social democratic & civil libertarian policy. Presumably the Liberal Democrats would respond to this with a further emphasis on economic liberalism: however, they could be arrested by someone who promised to raise the threshold as an answer to the tax credit fiasco.

Also, anyone who promised to build more council houses would get support. Generally, a soft leftist who takes a position against social authoritarianism would be best. I don’t know who such a person would be, as I’m not so familiar with the workings of the Labour party, & don’t feel much need to inform myself 🙂

I’d be interested to see them behaving in opposition. Quite possibly they could come back. Already Brown is staging something of a resurgence, & could do even more if he moved against the City, which has few defenders left amongst the public 🙂

Under this scenario, those potential Labour voters & even some who voted LD in 2005 would flock back for the most part. It would be the LDs’ job to get some of these people who claimed to be about to vote Conservative & contributed to that 52% poll for Camoron on board. That shouldn’t be too hard, as he is now showing his true nature more brazenly than ever.

by asquith on September 23, 2008 at 11:29 am. Reply #


I have a feeling that this Brown bounce is just because the media need a little bit of a story. The “Cameron strong, Brown weak” line was just getting a bit boring. I predict that there will be a bit of a bounce this week but that in a month or two it will have settled down to business as usual. Indeed, unless Brown does something extremely substantive I imagine Labour will start to drift down to the very low 20s.

I suppose there is a chance that they will succeed in pinning last week on speculators short selling, although as far as I can tell that is a bit of a Brownie. They really deserved to get picked up on their past boasts about having “light touch regulation” too, and that could turn on them nastily.

I am with Laurence on the poll question. It all very much depends by what you mean as effective (and what set of policies you are trying to plug – or is this merely in terms of numbers of red bums on green seats?).

In terms of basic competence (which is where they seem to be most horribly lacking at the moment) I would have thought that Alan Johnson would be top choice for them. The rest all seem as slimy as a bucket of eels and it is hard to see much good coming of any of them.

by passing tory on September 23, 2008 at 12:02 pm. Reply #

Yes, as someone who has long been against Brown (& Blair) I am unimpressed by any Brown bounce. But if the polls are so volatile, I’m not inclined to trust the Cameron bounce either.

You do have a point that Brown won’t be able to exploit these difficulties in the way Obama & to a lesser extent McCain have, because he has been an integral part of the government for 11 years. However, while he himself may not be very strong, he has also indicated that Cameron’s “strength” is illusory.

I do not think the Cameroons are at all complcent, & nor was Blair prior to 1997.

As I said, the Labour party’s future should make for interesting viewing if they go into opposition. Whether it be by a wide or a narrow margin, the possibilities are endless.

However, it seems that any remotely likely person will be stamped with New Labour’s record: it took 8 years to get Cameron, & Labour might find themselves in a similar place.

As much as I dislike Blair/Brown, I hope they don’t suffer a defeat as crushing as Major’s, as we can see how corrupting easy victories are.

by asquith on September 23, 2008 at 12:09 pm. Reply #


it is interesting you refer to a Cameron “bounce”. What period did you have in mind for this? I suppose the position shifted a lot last year but that was more down to ineptness by Brown (cranking up the election machinery and then stalling) and maybe a speech by Osbourne as much as Cameron. The rest of the time it seems to have been more of a “Cameron ramp” which (as an innately cautious soul) I have to say I feel much happier about than a bounce (where gravity has a horrible habit of cutting in eventually).

by passing tory on September 23, 2008 at 1:03 pm. Reply #

I use the term “bounce” to describe a lead which I regard as lacking in a valid basis, & generally resulting from the opponent’s bad qualities rather than any virtues the candidate has.

Large sections of the electorate seem to be shopping around & going for candidates without a firm, principled reason for doing so. They are known as “prospectors” to some 😉

As in New Labour voters who now say that they support Cameron, but may always go elsewhere.

You will doubtless wish to wholly disagree with my assessment of Cameron & his level of support…

by asquith on September 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm. Reply #


I don’t really feel the need to disagree in any active sense. Sure I have my own views on what is going on but everyone is entitled to their view.

The only slight problem with using that definition of bounce is that it is completely subjective. Presumably I could define the “Clegg bounce” if I felt that 60% of Lib Dem support in the ballot box was coming for the “wrong” reasons (e.g. just not liking the other two, rather than actively liking Lib Dem policies). Indeed, I suspect this “Clegg bounce” might be rather large.

Where possible I think it is nice to define terms in more objective ways (e.g. to define a bounce in terms of a relatively sudden increase in support).

by passing tory on September 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm. Reply #

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